Culture Shift, Technology Lead to Staff Cuts
Originally Published September 24, 2013
In the wake of recent support-staff reductions at Duane Morris, K&L Gates and other large firms, consultants and recruiters said more of these types of cuts are expected as firms seek to increase profits and shifts in technology gradually phase out the need for traditional clerical functions.
"I'm surprised that anybody's surprised," Thomas S. Clay, a principal with Altman Weil, said Friday, adding, "You're going to continue to see it as firms look in a slow-growth or no-growth economy" to save money.
Nonlawyer staff is often the first cost firms look at when considering reductions, according to Clay.
Clay said nonlawyer staffing costs account for on average around 40 percent of most large firms' expenses.
"By far and away the biggest savings area is people," Clay said.
The second largest expense for firms, Clay added, is space. So for those firms that are not locked into long-term leases in huge offices, reducing the number of bodies could eventually translate to savings on that front as well.
As Glenn D. Blumenfeld of Tactix Real Estate Advisors in Philadelphia told The Legal for its "Thinking Small" series on firms revamping their office spaces: Many firms' offices today are "a sea of empty secretarial stations that are really spaces to store empty filing boxes."
Add to that the fact that technological advances have rendered many of the traditional duties of law firm support staff nearly obsolete and it's little wonder why firms might look to reduce that expense, according to Clay.
"I was giving a speech about the need to move further and further toward fewer and fewer support staff and one attorney said, 'Yes, but who's going to do my filing?' Well, nobody," Clay said. "What lawyers have gotten used to are a lot of trappings."
Boston-based legal consultant Jeff Coburn agreed, saying the leverage ratio of lawyers to support staff at large firms that was at one time roughly 1-to-1 has changed over the years so that, in many instances, two, three or even four attorneys might share a single secretary.